Posted by Sheila Connolly
My name is Sheila, and I'm a hoarder.
Following the mad holiday spree when everybody vies to collect the most presents, and then rushes to the local mall to swap them all, it seems appropriate to reflect on my character flaw. For the record, I love stuff. Mind you, I am not a shopaholic. I do not buy things just for the sake of spending money, nor do I bring them home and squirrel them away under the bed without even removing the tags. No, I buy things because I find them beautiful, or they speak to me, or they remind me of something else.
It's not hereditary. My grandmother lived most of the last decades of her life in a one-room apartment. Lest you feel sorry for her, let me point out that it was an apartment in mid-town Manhattan with a Park Avenue address, and its sole window overlooked the Avenue (which was great fun each year when they put up lighted trees down the median strip at Christmas). She had one good-sized room, a bath, a kitchenette in what had once been a closet, and a large walk-in closet, and that was it.
But more to the point, every item in that uncluttered room she had chosen because she loved it. And she took care of everything meticulously. I still have various possessions of hers wrapped in white tissue paper, then tied with ribbon and carefully labeled, all scented with her characteristic sachet.
Still, that's where the problem began. My mother inherited my grandmother's furniture and other possessions (note: there was very little in the way of mementos, memorabilia, etc.–few letters or photos, save those my mother, my sister and I had given her over the years). When my mother died, as did her second husband a few months later, my sister and I were suddenly confronted with a houseful of possessions to divvy up. Sister arrived with a U-Haul; I called the local auction house. But we both ended up shoe-horning a whole lot of stuff into the houses we had already fully furnished.
I should say, in my own defense, that the houses I have lived in for the past twenty years have been 19th-century Victorians, with lovely large windows and high ceilings–but very few closets. At least the current one has a full attic, which of course we have already filled. When we moved to this house, the moving company informed us that we had a load of 18,000 pounds. That's nine tons. How did we end up with nine tons of stuff?
Wikipedia tells us "While there is no definition of compulsive hoarding in accepted diagnostic criteria" some researchers "provide the following defining features: the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value; living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed; significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding." And according to WebMD, "Many psychologists believe that hoarding is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), while others argue that it may be a variant of attention deficit disorder (ADD), which leaves people having difficulty with decision making, procrastination, and staying on task long enough to organize their surroundings."
I wish I could say this didn't sound familiar. And both sources make an interesting point: it's not so much obtaining the stuff, it's getting rid of it that's the problem. For those of us afflicted, it is painful to discard anything once we have it. I can hold an item in my hand and ask myself, when was the last time you used this, or even looked at it? Will you ever use it again? Why do you keep it? And then I put it back right where I found it.
As you might guess, books are definitely among things I can't get rid of. My husband and I started collecting paperback mysteries back when we were first married. This was before the day of Amazon, so we searched what used bookstores we could find, and aimed to complete series for all the classic mystery writers. We did pretty darn well, and collected something like a thousand books (yes, I did inventory them once), and they were even labeled by date and place in each series. And then we moved, and all those books sat in boxes in the attic for years, because there was no room for them in our paltry bookcases. Finally, when we moved again, I asked my husband to build a wall of bookshelves in one room, floor to ceiling, even extending over the window. Bless him, he did. And I bet you can see what's coming. We unpacked our books, hurrah! And promptly ran out of room. And then I started writing mysteries, so of course I had to read a lot of contemporary authors, and now the shelves are stacked two deep, and I'm working on three layers.
Maybe there's a ray of hope in here somewhere. I bought (and, yes, read) all those books years ago, and saved them for reasons that weren't clear to me then, hauling them back and forth across the country. And now, decades later, I'm a mystery writer, with a terrific reference library. Maybe with time all the other things I cherish (and can't bring myself to get rid of) will serve a yet-unknown purpose, and my hoarding will be vindicated.